Texas: The Great Theft

Texas: The Great Theft

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By Carmen Boullosa
Translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee

1859: Matasánchez and Bruneville. Two cities divided by the Río Bravo - or the Rio Grande, depending on which side you're on - filled with a volatile mix of characters... tensions are running high, and it all boils over one hot summer day...

Publication Date: December 2, 2014

Paperback: 9781941920008
eBook: 9781941920015

Description

"Mexico's greatest woman writer." —Roberto Bolaño

An imaginative writer in the tradition of Juan Rulfo, Jorge Luis Borges, and Cesar Aira, Carmen Boullosa shows herself to be at the height of her powers with her latest novel. Loosely based on the little-known 1859 Mexican invasion of the United States, Texas is a richly imagined evocation of the volatile Tex-Mex borderland. Boullosa views border history through distinctly Mexican eyes, and her sympathetic portrayal of each of her wildly diverse characters—Mexican ranchers and Texas Rangers, Comanches and cowboys, German socialists and runaway slaves, Southern belles and dancehall girls—makes her storytelling tremendously powerful and absorbing.

Shedding important historical light on current battles over the Mexican–American frontier while telling a gripping story with Boullosa's singular prose and formal innovation, Texas marks the welcome return of a major writer who has previously captivated American audiences and is poised to do so again.

Carmen Boullosa (b. 1954) is one of Mexico's leading novelists, poets, and playwrights. Author of seventeen novels, her books have been translated into numerous world languages. Recipient of numerous prizes and honors, including a Guggenheim fellowship, Boullosa is currently Distinguished Lecturer at City College of New York.

Samantha Schnee is founding editor and chairman of the board of Words Without Borders. She has also been a senior editor with Zoetrope, and her translations have appeared in the Guardian, Granta, and the New York Times.

Reviews

Nominated for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award
Global Literature in Libraries Initiative Pick 2016
Shortlisted for the 2015 PEN Translation Award
Winner of the 2014 Typographical Era Translation Award
One of World Literature Today's 75 Notable Translations of 2014
One of BBC's Ten Books to Read in December 2014

"A luminous writer . . . Boullosa is a masterful spinner of the fantastic." Miami Herald

"Utterly entertaining—a comic tour de force. I loved the book and think it deserves a very wide readership." Philip Lopate

"A lucid translation from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee. . . . [Boullosa's] tale, loosely based on the Mexican invasion of the US known as the ‘Cortina troubles’, evok[es] a history that couldn’t be more relevant to today’s immigration battles in the US." Jane Ciabattari, BBC

"Boullosa's tour de force account of this bloody legacy...is not a documentary. Rather, it is satire at its highest, presenting numerous grotesque biographies of the alien invaders, while also lightly reviewing the genres that have made Wild West literature part of the national identity and psyche. . . . In all, Texas is a very entertaining, masterly written novel, with a professional translation by Samantha Schnee."Nicolás Kanellos, Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas

"Brutal, poetic, hilarious and humane...a masterly crafted tale." Sjón

"Boullosa is one of Mexico's most respected writers and, with a book as rich as this under her belt, it's not difficult to understand why. As the repercussions of a shoot-out reverberate on both sides of the Rio Bravo (or Rio Grande, depending upon the side you're on), we're introduced to a cast list so extensive it rivals Dickens and a novel of such depth and scope that I can't resist comparing it to Tolstoy's work." Gary Perry, Foyle's Flagship (Charing Cross, London)

"Historical fiction at its very best, avoiding all semblance of caricature or appeals to stereotype. The classic Western." San Francisco Chronicle

"What is both moving and also lucid about Boullosa's prose, though, is her ability to take one in and out of a scene fraught with disorder and violence, and place one back in the rich spirit of humility encountering sublime beauty." Matt Pincus, Bookslut

"Many of the events in [Texas] seem as if they just happened yesterday. . . . It’s a story that shows the foundation of many border issues today." Mercedes Olivera, Dallas Morning News

"Think Catch-22 on the Mexican border. Carmen Boullosa's Texas: The Great Theft is a surprisingly funny, intensely complex and occasionally shocking take on the revisionist Western. It's one of the most purely entertaining things I've read in awhile, while never losing a sense of erudite ambition and thought-provoking moral ambiguity. It's a book that grows on me every time I think about it." Justin Souther, Malaprops Bookstore (Asheville, NC)

"Carmen Boullosa’s latest novel, Texas: The Great Theft, is evidence that our ideas about postmodern cowpoke tales have been woefully premature. . . . What is outstanding in Boullosa’s work is the deep sympathy expressed for every human encountered." Roberto Ontiveros, Dallas Morning News

"...a cross between W.G. Sebald and Gabriel García Márquez." El País

"Boullosa’s Texas is like one giant game of telephone. Everybody seems crazy to everybody else. . . . Boullosa’s Texas gives us a very different fiction than those told by nationalists of any stripe. . . . Security is theater because borders are fictions and because the empire has no clothes. But if political theater is ridiculous, Boullosa’s borderlands comedy explores why it is getting harder to laugh at Donald Trump." Aaron Bady, Pacific Standard Magazine

“Bizarre, comedic, fantastical, and unsettling — kind of how history feels when you’re forced to live through it.” Caille Millner, The Millions

"Powerful yet whimsical . . . Boullosa’s humorous, offbeat tale makes the case that – no matter how small or marginalized, no matter where it exists in relation to some arbitrary geographical or racial border – every perspective matters." David Eric Tomlinson, Writer's League of Texas

"Boullosa’s book is a wonderful romp . . . delightful reading . . . there are few completely good and moral characters in this book, making it a pretty realistic story despite the fanciful storytelling. The book patched up some holes in my understanding of Texas history." Nancy Jane Moore, Book View Café

"Carmen Boullosa truly brings history and injustice to life in Texas: The Great Theft, weaving together borrowed moments from the volatile history of the Texas-Mexico border and a simple plot that is gracefully fed by the diverse characters living out the story." Bridey Heing, The Mantle

"Texas: The Great Theft, a novel set on the Texas–Mexico border in 1859 and featuring a large cast of characters living in a historical moment rife with political and racial conflicts, is exhilarating both in scope and imagination."Yiyun Lee, New York Review of Books

 

Excerpt

Eleven years have passed since the town of Bruneville was founded on the banks of the Rio Bravo, just a few miles up-river from the Gulf. It was named after Ciudad Castaño, the legendary shining city to the northwest, which was razed by the Apaches. In appropriating the name, Stealman aimed to trade on the sterling quality of the original.

At its founding, the following were present (without a shadow of a doubt):

1) Stealman, the lawyer
2) Kenedy, who owned the cotton plantation
3) Judge Gold (back then he was plain Gold, he still hadn’t earned the nickname Judge)
4) Minister Fear, his first wife, and their daughter Esther (may the latter two rest in peace)
5) A pioneer named King.

King had a royal name, though when he’d arrived in Mexico he hadn’t a penny, didn’t own even a snake. But he was a master of chicanery. When some locals lent him low-grade land to use for seven years, it took him only a few months to emerge as the legitimate owner of immense tracts, on which it seemed to rain cattle from the clouds, as if they were a gift from god. But there was nothing remotely miraculous about the way King made his fortune. He was as good a trickster as any magician with a false-bottomed top hat. If King had been Catholic (as he claimed to be in the contract he signed with the Mexicans), the archdiocese would have been able to build a cathedral with the fortune he’d have to have given them as penance for his sins.

In 1848 King wasn’t the only one who went looking for a fortune, convinced that “Americans” had the right to take what belonged to the North Mexicans by whatever means necessary, fair or foul.

 

Biographical Note

Carmen Boullosa is one of Mexico's leading novelists, poets, and playwrights. She has published over a dozen novels, two of which were designated the Best Novel Published in Mexico by the prestigious magazine Reforma—her second novel, Before, also won the renowned Xavier Villaurrutia Prize for Best Mexican Novel; and her novel La otra mano de Lepanto was also selected as one of the Top 100 Novels Published in Spanish in the past 25 years. Her most recent novel, Texas: The Great Theft won the 2014 Typographical Era Translation Award, was shortlisted for the 2015 PEN Translation Award, and has been nominated for the 2015 International Dublin Literary Award. Boullosa has received numerous prizes and honors, including a Guggenheim fellowship. Also a poet, playwright, essayist, and cultural critic, Boullosa is a Distinguished Lecturer at City College of New York, and her books have been translated into Italian, Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Russian. Shelby Vincent received her PhD in Literary Translation from the University of Texas at Dallas's School of Arts and Humanities in 2015. She is currently translating another of Boullosa's novels entitled The Virgin and the Violin, which is loosely based on the female Renaissance artist Sofonisba Anguissola, and which Deep Vellum will publish in 2018.